The game couldn’t have started much better for Maryland, its fans and the 22 seniors playing at home for the final time.
Scoring touchdowns on five of six possessions, the Terrapins raced to a 25-point lead over Rutgers and appeared poised to secure their eighth win and a winning record in Big Ten play.
It all came apart Saturday in a 41-38 defeat that took some of the luster off an otherwise exceptional season for bowl-bound Maryland, even though coach Randy Edsall tried to insist otherwise.
“It hurts a lot, there is no doubt about that,” he said. “It is not going to take away from the other things that this group of guys accomplished this year. We get an opportunity to play another one, but it’s disappointing because how this game started and where it ended.”
With former Terps coach Ralph Friedgen directing the Rutgers attack as its offensive coordinator, the Scarlet Knights (7-5, 3-5) rallied from a 35-10 deficit to pull off the biggest comeback in school history.
“Obviously it’s a special win, but I think it’s an even better win for our program,” said Friedgen, who coached at Maryland for 10 years before being replaced by Edsall after the 2010 season.
With Friedgen leading the way, Rutgers outscored the Terrapins (7-5, 4-4) 31-3 over the final 31 minutes.
“I think it’s on us,” linebacker L.A. Goree said. “We usually play real good football, but we couldn’t stop them when we needed to stop them.”
Rutgers took its first lead when Kyle Federico kicked a 25-yard field goal with 6:14 left, and Maryland couldn’t come back.
After Brad Craddock failed on a 54-yard field goal attempt, his first miss in 19 tries this season, the Terrapins recovered a fumble at the Rutgers 45 with 2:54 remaining. But Brandon Ross was stuffed for no gain on a fourth-and-1, dooming the Terrapins to an unsightly defeat on Senior Day.
“We will live with it,” Edsall said, “but we will get better from it.”
Friedgen’s offense amassed 491 yards, Gary Nova completed 28 of 42 passes for 347 yards and four touchdowns, and three receivers finished with more than 100 yards. Janarion Grant had eight catches for 105 yards; Andre Patton had eight receptions for 101 yards and two touchdowns; and Leonte Carroo caught six passes for 104 yards and two scores.
Playing his final home game at Maryland, sixth-year quarterback C.J. Brown went 14 for 24 for 195 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 107 yards and a score.
“For all the seniors, including myself, to go out with a loss, it hurts,” Brown said. “To be up 35-10 and for them to come back at home on senior night, it’s not a good feeling.”
Ross had 108 yards rushing on 10 carries and scored twice.
“It just hurts,” Ross said. “As an offense we scored only three points in the second half so we feel like it’s on us.”
Down 35-10, Rutgers began its comeback when a roughing-the-kicker call extended a drive that produced a 1-yard touchdown pass from Nova to Patton just before halftime.
Grant returned the opening kickoff of the second half 71 yards to set up a 1-yard touchdown run Robert Martin. Then, after a Maryland punt, Nova threw an 8-yard TD pass to Carroo to make it 35-31.
A 50-yard field goal by Craddock interrupted the surge, but Nova tied it with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Patton with 14:55 to go.
The victory was only the second for Rutgers in its last six games. It did, however, assure the Scarlet Knights a winning record overall in their first season in the Big Ten.
Moments after honoring 22 seniors before their final home game, the Terrapins took the opening kickoff and put together a drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Brown.
After Rutgers kicked a field goal, Brown opened the second quarter with a quick pass to Amba Etta-Tawo, who made the catch in stride while cutting across the middle and pulled away for a 71-yard score.
Nova responded with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Carroo, and the back-and-forth continued when Brown directed a 82-yard march that lasted less than two minutes and ended with a 9-yard TD run by Ross.
The game’s lone turnover followed. Sean Davis caused Nova to fumble, Cole Farrand recovered on the Rutgers 40 and Ross scored on the next play to make it 28-10.
Minutes later, Brown threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Deon Long.
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